NELLIS, W.Va. -- William Gunnoe noticed his safety lamp had stopped burning.
Gunnoe, a section foreman at the Nellis No. 3 Mine in the Boone County with 19 years' experience, knew a darkened lamp meant one of two things. Either the device was broken, or the air inside the mine had filled with methane.
He figured the lamp was just broken, and asked his supply crew to return to the surface for another one. As a precaution, Gunnoe decided the men on his section would not blast any more coal, at least until he could rule out the methane.
The supply crew got in their electric man trip and headed aboveground.
At the same time, 5-year-old Harold Baldwin was sitting on a wall near his grandmother's house, waiting on the evening train to pass. He went out to the wall every evening, to wave at the conductor and fireman.
"I was sitting out there, when that mine explosion happened," Baldwin, now 75, said.
His grandmother ran out to the wall, scooped him up and carried him inside.
"She said 'Henry, this is bad,'" Baldwin remembers. "Because the whistle just kept blowing and blowing and blowing. She knew it was real bad."
Gunnoe had been wrong about the methane.
About 6:55 p.m. on Nov. 6, 1943, a spark from an electric mine car ignited the air inside American Rolling Mill Company's coal mine in Nellis, killing Gunnoe, his brother, Lester, and seven other men.
William Barker, 59, and Lawrence Vincent, 25, survived the initial blast but later died at McMillan Hospital in Charleston.
Although Baldwin was only a child, he remembers a black cloud descending on Nellis after the blast.
"It was like a morgue. There was nobody out," he said. "They were in a daze. It just ripped the guts right out of the community."